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The Seeds of Thought Repository

Educator Profile: Amy from Tennessee

Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of interviewing another fantastic Educator. Due to the open nature of these conversations, we can’t always give out these educators’ full name and schools that they teach at. However, that doesn’t diminish our excitement in sharing this fantastic conversation!

Amy has been an Assistant Principal for six years at a High School in Tennessee. Prior to being in this role, she was a High School and Middle School Chemistry Teacher for several years in schools throughout Tennessee, the Midwest, and the West Coast.

In our conversation, Amy touches on a number of topics, including her State’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways, Funding Options for Classes, Technical Coaches, the future of STEM education, and advice she would give to new STEM teachers.

Ankita: Thank you so much for speaking with us today and telling us a bit about your background as a teacher in Tennessee, the Midwest, and the West Coast, as well as your experience as a Vice Principal. Reflecting back on your experiences, how much have you learned traveling around, versus how much of that was taught in your [Administration] degree?

Amy: My undergrad degree, I really did learn a lot in the program. I was put in the classroom quite a bit. Through that experience and the program, I started out feeling very well prepared and I think I was very well prepared.

For my masters degree in Administration, I really did learn quite a bit before I even started it from all the moves. I think that just moving and being around the country, I think by the time I started that program I had picked up so much about how different schools are run and how they work.

Ankita: What does the Administration Degree Cover?

Amy: The master’s level Administration Program included things like organizational leadership and management, human resources, a whole course on special education law, etc. It focused on those kind of bigger picture items, that are important. But it did not focus on the nuts and bolts of teaching. They kind of expect you to have that down before this program.

Michelle: Can share a little bit about the funding structure in your district, how funds are allocated? Any color on any of that would be appreciated.

Amy: I may not know enough about it, to help as much as you would like. One thing that I have really found interesting that is unique to my state is their focus on the career and technical education (CTE) pathways. This is the requirement that each student have three courses in what we call an elective focus. For some students that focus will be in an AP [Advanced Placement] focus. For so many of students, where the AP track isn’t their thing, they have available to them these different career and technical pathways.

“One thing that I have really found interesting, that is unique to my state, is the focus on the career and technical education (CTE) pathways”

These pathways take so much money, time, and effort on a High Schools part to decide, which course are we going to offer, and which paths are we going to have. That’s an entire department in our high school; a set of teachers that we have, that other states may not have or think about. For example, we have a teacher who, all day, teaches engineering, one that teaches culinary, we have a tv film teacher, all so that students can take three of those courses before they graduate. So that’s an entire set of funding that goes up to the state level.

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That’s one entire sub-set of funding that’s unique to our state, and I think it’s great for students because there are those whose focus would be math and science and AP classes. But there are lots of student who really get a head start in a career by having those options, that in other states they would go through and take their general classes and ‘Then, what?’ They would figure it out after high school. That is one thing that I think is unique to our state, and maybe not many others.

Michelle: How much focus or funding is dedicated to STEM departments?

Amy: There is definitely a focus, even without a monetary amount. One of the schools in our district, just built an entire STEM building. With the money they had to do some renovations and update their building, and they chose to build an entire STEM building.They are moving their math and science courses there, and therefor really putting a focus on it.

Going back to the CTE pathways, our school had the choice, which pathways do we want to choose. We know the students really want the culinary pathway so we will do that. But one of the things that our principal really wanted to focus on was unmanned aerial systems, drones and so we started our engineering pathway. So a focus [on STEM] for sure exists in our county.

Michelle: Can you share a little bit more about what the funding goes toward? Does that include educational materials, textbooks; what is included in what you can use your funds on?

Amy: That program that I mentioned is part of the CTE program and it has its own set of funding. The state has a separate CTE budget, outside of our regular budget. … Our regular science department gets its own money, which they can use to order lab supplies and everything else.

Our district also still allows teachers to request a class fee, it’s called an optional class fee. Parents can decide whether or not they want to pay it and teachers can use that fee for consumable supplies during the school year. It has to be used on things that will be used up by the students during that school year. For example, I could use that for chemicals in my chemistry class and it was great because we got to do every lab I could ever want to do.

Michelle: Does your school or district to anything around fundraising?

Amy: Clubs and activities and sports groups would all have the option to do a fundraiser, and there are real strict rules about it. … I’m not sure about classes doing fundraisers.

Ankita: Along the lines of fundraising, definitely anything that student organizations do is one avenue, are there any others? We have heard teachers mention PTA as being a source, and other local business. Can you speak to this a little bit?

Amy: Yes, both [PTA and Local Business donation] are really good options. Partnerships with business are so valuable. Community partnerships really, not just business. They are great to establish as an Administration team, because a lot of time those are the parents in your school, as well as, some of your business owners and leaders. They are often the ones who at the same time will be your PTO members, so you have this central group that work together quite a bit. And so you end of getting donations of maybe, food for a banquet event at a discounted rate.

As far a when it comes to big time money donations, for the kind of equipment you need for science and all that, what I have experienced is that it’s the same people over and over, and these are parents in your community, and you don’t want to over ask. They give and they give and they give. … You sometimes want to look for other ways, like grants or other sources?

Ashlee: How do you stay up to date with some of the latest technology or different science projects that you teach?

Amy: Our district does a really good job of having some technology coaches that stay up to date on that for us, and keep us [teachers] up to date, so we don’t have to go looking. She [the technology coach] will come knocking with ‘I want to show you this, and this’. … She’ll show us different things our student may be using or things she wants us to try with the students.

Ashlee: For some of us who may not know, can you describe what a technology coach is?

Amy: Oh yes, our district has chosen to create and employ that position. I don’t know how many we have in the district. Fewer than the technology coaches than we wish we had, because they serve several schools. They have a google form that teachers can fill out if they need some sort of help with technology, for instance ‘I want you to show me how to do something, or I would like training on this’ and she checks it and she will either create a professional development opportunity or go see them and show them in their classroom, and that’s her job.

Ankita: Is that technology coach for STEM classes?

Amy: No, it’s really more of a teacher resource. She probably would present to a class with a teacher if the students wanted to learn how to use a technology, but it’s more about training the teachers to be able to use a technology or show students how to use a technology. Kind of the way a librarian shows students how to use anything in a library, she kind of does the same thing, but with technology.

“Kind of the way a librarian shows students how to use anything in a library, she kind of does the same thing, but with technology.”

Ankita: Along the same lines so that was more about getting teachers I guess more up-to-date with the technology, does that also feed into changing a curriculum or like let's say you are teaching chemistry and turns out you want to teach another unit that might not be required by the state or standard I guess what is the process behind it?

Amy: Okay so there are the state standards that every course in the state has a set list that we are required to teach. We are told if you have a state tested course you can expect it will be on the test. Then our county has what we what they call a scope and sequence which is usually more than the state standards, they want us to do a little more. … Every course in that county has that list, quarter 1, quarter 2, quarter 3, quarter 4. How that list is created, it can vary department by department butt typically it has been designed by a group of teachers who have gotten together under the leadership of the curriculum supervisor for that department. We have one for pretty much every department in the county. We put that group together, maybe over a summer, and have them weed through the different objectives and for each subject area and decide what really should be the final set. Not only set, but the order, what quarter should calorimetry be taught, etc., because that matters.

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If i was new to the county and had that issue I probably would talk about it with my curriculum leader for the county and say you know why do we teach this here, has this ever come up. It could be something where we talked about it the next summer and decide to make a change and that's where it could be done.

Ankita: What do you want for the future of education, or what do you want the future of education to look like?

Amy: There is so much, and you've touched a little bit with your questions on technology. I think we could do a disservice to our students in two ways. If we don't prepare them to be able to use technology and to be able to do all the things that they're wanting to do with technology, to be collaborative, to do video interviews by the time they leave high school, and know how to do all those things. But at the same time, to train them on how to be able to learn using interpersonal skills. I need to send my students out knowing how to sit in an interview and know it's not okay to pick up your phone, how to sit in a class and be in a class without technology, and how you manage that. Because not every single class do you have to have your whatever device out. And so, I think we have to teach our students to navigate a world where they can use technology but understand that it's important to know how to navigate the world of people.

“The content they're learning is the important part. The technology is the tool and it's important not to lose sight of that.”

The content they're learning is the important part. The technology is the tool and it's important not to lose sight of that. That's really important, because I've been in education long enough, when I started teaching we used an overhead projector. There was no technology, I just had my notes, and we got by. We learned the same chemistry, I promise. I know students can do it, I guess I want to make sure they know that. I don't want them to step out in the world and say: "my technology isn't working, I can't do anything." So your question is, "where is the future of education going?" If we're not careful, it could go a couple ways. I want to make sure it's going in a way where students can use technology as a tool and then see the great, amazing things they can do with that.

Ankita: What advice would you give another aspiring STEM teacher?

Amy: I think one thing that I wished I had done more of when I was new was some more real-world, project-based learning. Learn some product that they need to make and create, so that when they're learning the skills to be able to do it, the notes you're giving them to be able to make that product are just a side note. They've learned it along the way, but the goal was to make that product and they didn't realize that the notes you were giving them was your real objective the whole time so they learned it. But they were focused on this fun product and that's really motivating and I think doing a little more of that probably, I wish had done more of that earlier on.

“I think one thing that I wished I had done more of when I was new was some more real-world, project-based learning.”

We would like to thank Amy again for sharing her experiences with us, and teaching us so much about the work she does.

If you are interested in learning more about technology coaches, we encourage you to check out the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards for technology coaches.